They oohed at the Edward A. Myerberg Northwest Senior Center yesterday when self-defense specialist Douglas Lake demonstrated how to scratch out an assailant's eyes with his fingers, and they aahed when he nimbly executed a shoulder roll that instantaneously landed him back on his feet.
"Who's ready to try that?" he asked the crowd of about 100 elderly people at the center at 3101 Fallstaff Road in Northwest Baltimore. The seniors laughed.
But Mr. Lake's message was a serious one. Even though most in his audience were old and many were infirm, all of them, he said, could learn to protect themselves.
The trick, Mr. Lake said, was to prepare for trouble. "Under the duress of a situation, it's too late," he warned. "Panic and fear make everything shut down. You've got to be aware of what's behind every corner and have a plan."
Mr. Lake, 40, is a one-time Westinghouse Electric Corp. employee who has turned a 25-year-long fascination with the martial arts into a career. He said that he teaches about 25 classes at the Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave. in Northwest Baltimore, including karate, women's boxing, yoga and T'ai Chi.
He made a striking appearance for yesterday's lecture, wearing a black kung-fu outfit. With his round, bald head and distinctive beard, he looked a bit like a Caucasian Oddjob, the character from the movie "Goldfinger."
Mr. Lake calls his approach the "comprehensive survival arts," which he said combines common-sense advice with self-defense techniques. He advised his listeners to always plan their excursions carefully, to be aware of their surroundings and to leave behind anything -- especially big handbags -- that would attract muggers. He urged them to walk confidently but to always be alert for dangers.
If trouble comes, he said, be ready for it. "Don't look like a victim. Don't look like, 'Why me?' It's too late for that. It is you."
With that introduction, Mr. Lake and an assistant, Ted Miller, began the more spectacular part of the program, demonstrating self-defense techniques, including how to best hold your body to withstand blows (sideways), and an assortment of blocks, punches and kicks.
Mr. Lake peppered the presentation with tips: Use the elbow and the knee, he said, they can deliver some of the body's most hurtful blows. Also, if you have a pen, use it. A Bic is particularly good for puncturing the eyes or stomach.
Such statements elicited groans from the squeamish. "It may not sound pretty what you can do," he admonished, "but it's better than what they're going to do to you."
Though he preaches the gospel of self-defense, Mr. Lake said it is always better to give a mugger a purse or wallet if that's all he seems to want. He also warned not to attempt to disarm someone armed with a handgun. "I don't know many people who can stop a bullet," he said.
After Mr. Lake's 75-minute presentation, many in the crowd pronounced themselves quite impressed with his techniques if a bit doubtful about their own abilities to use them.
"I have a heart condition," said Gerald Buckner a 77-year old retired clothing cutter. "If anyone attacked me, if I didn't end it pretty fast, it would be too late."